Repairs from ground up

Call them cobblers. Or shoe repairmen. They're crafts people from a different era, remnants of a different time, not unlike wheelwrights, bookbinders, buggy whip makers or coopers. In a throwaway society, the artisans who repair shoes are hold outs who still insist that people will repair rather than discard their shoes. It's a position that today seems counterintuitive.

Ask anyone: do you recycle? Of course, comes the answer. Newspapers, glass, cans, plastic and green waste. But what about shoes? When they wear out, what happens? Likely, they'll be discarded, the premise being why spend the money to repair a pair of shoes when new ones are so inexpensive. The same for socks (who darns socks, anymore?), shirts (there was a time when collars on shirts were reversed), and a hundred other sundry items.

Dan Shulters, Ashland's only shoe repairman, owner of Dan's Shoe Repair just above Main Street, will tell you it's the Wal Mart mind set.

"Fifty percent of people don't realize that you can repair shoes and when they do, they may be hard to convince that it's worth it.

"A lady came in the other day with a pair of quality shoes. She asks me how much to repair. I say, '$70.' She looks at me and says, 'Why would I spend that much when I can get a new pair for $125?'

"We're a throwaway society, a disposable culture." Dan paused, then said, "What folks don't understand is that if you buy one good pair of shoes and repair them, it will save you money in the long run."

Dan's Shoe Repair Shop is, by comparison to most businesses that run along Main Street, diminutive, no more than 900 square feet. Walk through the front door and the smell of leather and dye is distinct. This is a place of work and not simply sales. To the left are boxes of new shoes, laces hanging on hooks, rows of shoe polish, shoe trees, snow shoes, and various types of soles. Behind the counter, on three wooden shelves, are well-worn shoes and hard-used boots waiting to be repaired or picked up. In the back are the tools of the trade: patchers; out sole and inside sole sewing machines; rotating brushes of various grades for polishing and sanding; heel trimmers; auto-solers; and iron lasts for close work. Work benches are covered with tools, scraps of leather, and shoes. Lots of shoes.

When asked how he gets by, given our society's tendency to throw things away, Shulters said that he has found niche markets. Sure people bring him shoes to repair.

"Mostly women," he said. "If men brought their shoes in the way women do we'd be fine. What happened was that when the timber industry dried up, so did a large segment of our business." Loggers buy top-of-the-line boots, many costing well over $300 a pair, and when they begin to wear out, it makes sense to repair them.

Now, Shulters services law enforcement, prison guards, fire fighters, and some logging people, who all wear high-end, specialized boots.

"Four pair of boots equals 40 minor repairs," he said.

Cory Shulters, who works with his father, said he loves getting up each day and working with his hands.

"As long as they continue to make quality shoes, we'll have work to do. Plus it's nice being part of something that goes back to my grandfather, and helping people out with their shoes."

The Shulters also advertise that they can repair just about anything from tents to lamps to purses, as well as do custom work in leather.

Dan's Shoe Repair, purchased from Joe Nab in 2003, is a family business going back several generations. Shulters' father, Hal, came home from World War II and got into the shoe business in California.

Today he, his son, daughter-in-law, and father-in-law all pitch in to keep the business afloat. Even Joe stops in and lends a hand. They have also opened a second shop, Bostwick's Shoe Repair, in Central Point and have set up nine drop-off sites throughout the Valley and in California where people can leave shoes for repair.

Shulters, with a smile, offered this slogan: "If your shoes aren't becoming to you, you should be coming to us."

Apparently, people still are.

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